History on a plate
51 Abbey Street with Fred Nutt standing outside his butcher’s shop
Over the years Brian Howes has built up an impressive collection of early advertising material by keeping a watchful eye out for possible fresh acquisitions. He was passing a City centre pub, back in 1983, when he noticed it was undergoing refurbishment. Almost as a matter of course, he called in to see what, if anything, was being thrown out. There was nothing in the way of advertising material but the builders casually mentioned that a pile of glass photographic negatives had been found in an upstairs room. One of the workmen had taken some to a nearby antique/junk shop to try and sell them, only to be told by the proprietor that they were of no value. So the glass plates had simply been dumped in builders' skips. Most had already gone by the time Brian Howes got there but a few plates still remained in one skip and a workman obligingly dug these out from under a mound of rubble. He was rewarded with the price of a pint and Brian took home some forty photographic negatives. These proved to be of people standing outside their homes or in front of shop premises. Brian was sufficiently intrigued to ask a photographer to make contact prints of all the shops and some of the houses.
51 Abbey Street in 1990
The question arose as to where and when the photographs had been taken and by whom. Only twice did a street name feature in any of the shots but the words 'Priory Street’ on one of them were all that was needed to pinpoint W. Clarke's general clothing and pawn broking business at the corner of Abbey Street and Priory Street (now occupied by Designs Unlimited) Ltd. here in Old Lenton. With one photo positively identified two others quickly followed. They were also Abbey Street shops. W. Smith, hairdresser and tobacconist, was at No.53 and next door; at No.51 was F. Nutt, butcher. It so happened that Brian's great uncle, George Howes, lives on Beeston Road, hardly any distance from where these photographs were taken. It seemed sensible to show him the prints. With the help of George and some of his pals at The Boat, Priory Street, a few more photographs fell into place. There was one more on Abbey Street. This was No.14, Old Lenton's Post Office, now housing the Old Lenton Friary. The others were across in; Dunkirk. On Montpelier Road there was a shop at No. 87. They also recognised three shots of houses in the terrace bearing the name 'Dunkirk Villas'. In the photograph of No. a sign above the door reads 'H. Rodgers & Son, Chimney Sweepers' and, just to make sure there was no possible misunderstanding a sweep's brush was placed above the sign for all to see. In another the lady of the house poses by her front door with the cat in her arms taking a lively interest. The design of the railings on her front wall would indicate that she too was a resident of Dunkirk Villas.
No.87 Montpelier Road in 1925
The photograph of William Smith’s shop on Abbey Street provided Brian with the answer as to when these Lenton shots were taken. In this photo, which was also used on the front cover of Issue 45 of The Lenton Listener, there was a poster stuck to the wall advertising the Lenton Flower Show. Careful scrutiny of it revealed the date September 1925. By the time the photographer came along, the poster was probably a little out of date because the shop window was now bedecked with Christmas decorations. So this takes us to December 1925. Who the photographer was we cannot say, but it looks as if he made it his business to walk along streets, knocking on doors asking if anyone would like to have their picture taken; later to return with prints which were bought by those who had agreed to pose for him.
About a quarter of Brian's glass negatives are of people and properties in Lenton. The obvious question to ask is where were the rest taken. A search through a Nottingham directory for 1925 suggested that the shop belonging to J. Bayliss, pork butcher could be found at 157, Sneinton Dale. A comparison of the present day shop at No.157 and the photo gives conclusive proof that they are one and the same. Painted on the window of another of Brian's shops was 'A. Bramley, English & foreign fruiterer, fresh rabbits daily, licensed to sell cigarettes'. The directory gives an Ada Bramley, greengrocer, as the occupant of 12, Raleigh Street, just off the Alfreton Road. But a new building now stands where Ada Bramley's shop once stood so there is no chance this time of obtaining visual corroboration.
The Nottingham directories, however, are of no further help with the remaining eight shops or businesses. The supposition must be that these photographs were taken somewhere other than Nottingham. If any reader thinks they can place one or more of the following businesses both Brian and ourselves would be delighted to hear from them. The shops are Lewis Bros. & Co., house furnishers; G. Fisher, ladies and gent's outfitters; Pullar's of Perth, a business specialising in cleaning and dyeing, above which can be seen a billiard hall; H. Blythe (late Stevenson), family grocer; Ye Olde Sweete Shoppe; L. Childs, confectioner, housed in a building that looks as though it is part of a council housing estate; T. Halford, whose sign describes him as a licensed horse slaughterer, carter, coke and coal merchant; and finally there is a fairly distinctive looking Co-operative grocery and meat store.
No.87 Montpelier Road in 1990
What were all these glass negatives doing in the pub? The answer lies in the building's earlier history. Initially it had been a hotel but its proprietor had evidently failed to attract sufficient paying guests because for a while a number of rooms at the top of the building were sub-let to small businesses. Our photographer must have acquired one of these and used it as his dark room. When he vacated the premises he left behind all the glass plates as they were no longer needed. The photographer must have been the room's last occupant and the plates then lay there gathering dust and all manner of debris; the room was found to be in a terrible state when the workmen finally arrived. This is the likely scenario but we shall probably never know for sure.
Something else we can only conjecture about was what else might have been found on all those other glass negatives, the ones Brian Howes wasn't able to rescue. They have been consigned to oblivion and with them we have lost a little more of our past.